I Drive
by Gabriel Boutros

My winter tires rumble loudly over the frozen asphalt. The cold air slaps my face through the open window. I squeeze my eyes shut for a second then open them wide again. Still awake. I stifle a yawn. Dividing lines flash by my headlights and disappear under my wheels. I remind myself not to fall into a hypnotic stare. It's a half-hour drive to the South Shore.

I play the radio low because Savannah is dozing. While she sleeps her thick red hair hides part of her face. She found Phillip's jacket and balled it up against the window for a pillow. He must have forgotten it when I dropped him off at his mother's last night.

I don't like it when she touches his things. He doesn't belong in her world; my world, now. But I say nothing. The jacket won't wrinkle, although tomorrow he might smell of Givenchy or something like that. I love the smell of her perfume. They all have their own brands; some of them pretty cheap. I don't know the name of hers, but it's my favourite. I never smell her sweat.

Now and then I glance at her silver toenails, her dirty bare feet resting on the dashboard of my minivan. Sneakers lie untied on the floor. She has long legs that disappear under white hot pants, leaving half her buttocks hanging out onto the vinyl bucket seat. Buttock seat, I called it once. I don't think she got it.

Look, but don't touch, she always tells me. Like that's all she needs to stop me. I could touch if I wanted to. I mean, if I really wanted to. I guess she knows that. But I never do; not with Savannah. I hardly even look anymore. I've seen her dance a hundred times. Once or twice she swung her perfect ass so close to my face I could have licked her. There are long, thin scars underneath her gravity-defying breasts. Her body holds no secrets from me. Except how soft she feels.

She sighs deeply in her sleep and shifts in her seat to get comfortable. I glance at her moving legs, then my eyes race up her body to her face, before I turn my attention back to the road. Okay; so I do still look. Look, but don't touch, and I get to drive her home for $35.00.

It's different with Chantal. She sits in the back seat, head swaying to a song only she can hear. She wears her dirty blond hair cut short, like a boy. She has a square jaw and square shoulders; too much like a boy. Touching's okay with her. And a lot more. After our first time she wanted me to pay for her coke and I got scared. She wasn't a good enough lay to do time for. So, after another date or seven, I more or less ended it. Well, I never said she was a lousy lay.

So she pays her $35, sits in the back seat and sways her head to her own songs. Even when I play the radio loud. Every now and then she'll tickle me behind the ear, like I'm her favourite pet. I'll laugh, because she only pays me after I get her home. I try my best to keep away from her.

Every few weeks they'll hire a new dancer. Most girls only work a couple of weeks before moving on. Some stay longer. Maybe they come from the Townships, or from Ontario. Some of them don't speak French, and they can use a friend in the big city. I like to make myself available, give them a hand. I know places they can eat for cheap, or get good costume jewelry. I know the clinics. I never pressure them. I expect nothing, I say. I'm just a nice guy. Sometimes it works.

It rarely lasts long, though. If they're cute, and they're mostly cute, there's always somebody willing to take them to eat in places that aren't so cheap. Sometimes they get real jewelry. All I have to offer them is a minivan ride home at a reasonable rate. It's no big deal; that's just how it is.

Most nights, now, I sit at my corner table wearing my baseball cap over my receding hairline. My fingers rest intertwined on a paunch formed by inactivity. I watch them dance while I sip my gin and seven. Only one an hour if I'm going to drive, and they water everything anyway. The girls come by and say hello, tell me about their latest break-up. I'm a good listener when I have to be.

In the beginning I used to stand them all drinks, Zombies and other stuff. It was how I made friends. But it got expensive real fast, and I've got other bills to pay. Maybe they thought I was a sucker. I probably was. Now and then, when I'm feeling flush, I'll still treat one of them. Usually Savannah. She likes Sex on the Beach. I'll smile and tell her I've always wanted to try that, and she'll smile back, then she'll walk away. Mostly, I drink alone.

Savannah begins to snore. From the corner of my eye I see her mouth drop open an inch or two. Downtown, she was Ecstasy, but it's two years she hasn't worked downtown. Now she's Savannah. It has a bit of a country feel, she said; works better in the boonies. I like the way it sounds when she says it.

Chantal reaches past the headrest and tickles my earlobe. Irritated, I swat her hand away. In the rearview mirror I see her slump back in her seat; she looks hurt. I regret my reaction, but she took me by surprise. I'd forgotten she was there. I think I should say something, maybe make a joke. Then I shrug and let it go. She'll get over it.

We learn to get over stuff. My life's been worse. Lately, I drive most weekends, some weeknights. I make two-fifty, three hundred a week; half of that goes for gas and drinks. I eat a lot of happy hours. It's not enough for the arrears on Phillip, but I buy him stuff when I can. It's all under the table, so the court can't seize it. She can't seize it.

I'm not saving much money, but at least I have a job. Not a job job, but better than the two years on welfare. I call this welfare-plus. A little cash, a little company, a little nooky, in descending order of importance. A few nights a week, for a couple of hours or so, I'm a man again. If you think that's not saying much, you just don't know.

We get off the highway at the Candiac exit. Slowing down wakes Savannah. I try to look at her face while keeping my eyes on the road, but she's looking out the side window, getting her bearings. She stretches, even her toes, then yawns. She turns and looks blankly at me, and I know for a split second she's forgotten my name.

I smile, to let her know I'm getting her home safely again. Then I brake hard as I catch a stop sign out of the corner of my eye. Her surprised eyes hold mine briefly, then she smiles, letting me turn my attention back to the road. I try to swallow, because my mouth is dry. In the rearview mirror Chantal still looks pissed at me. I don't really care.

We get to Savannah's place first and she slips her sneakers back onto her feet. One time I jumped out to hold her car door open and she laughed. Laughed really loud. Now, I stay in my seat and say, "Good night, Savannah," with a little smile, a little wave.

She opens the door and is quickly onto the sidewalk; then she turns and drops some cash onto her seat. Phillip's jacket has fallen to the floor, but I ignore it as I watch her lips form a conspiratorial smile.

"G'night, you two," she says to Chantal and me. "Have fun." She slams the door and runs up the three steps to the large glass entrance of her apartment building. She disappears inside.

I let my breath out. As I put the car into gear I look in the rearview mirror again and see that Chantal is still pouting, looking back at Savannah's building. When she turns to face the front I pull my eyes back to the road. I drive further south. After a minute I feel her breath up close, warm on the back of my neck; her finger flicks my earlobe. I decide to laugh; it comes a little late and a bit too loud, but she doesn't seem to notice. I'm still irritated, but I don't swat her hand away this time. I know the way to her home.

Gabriel Boutros has been a defence attorney in Montreal for close to twenty years. He is married and the father of two sons. His writing credits include a screenplay (which has yet to be produced), a novel (which has yet to be published), and several short stories (of which I Drive is the first to be published in any format). Not a great batting average perhaps, but he says he wasn't planning on quitting his day job just yet anyway.